The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XII

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XII
by George MacDonald



Scarcely had the ladies gone to the drawing-room when Florimel's maid, who knew Malcolm, came in quest of him. Lady Lossie desired to see him.

"What is the meaning of this, MacPhail?" she said, when he entered the room where she sat alone. "I did not send for you. Indeed, I thought you had been dismissed with the rest of the servants."

How differently she spoke! And she used to call him Malcolm! The girl Florimel was gone, and there sat — the marchioness was it, or some phase of riper womanhood only? It mattered little to Malcolm. He was no curious student of man or woman. He loved his kind too well to study it. But one thing seemed plain: she had forgotten the half friend-ship and whole service that had had place betwixt them, and it made him feel as if the soul of man no less than his life was but as a vapor that appeareth for a little and then vanisheth away.

But Florimel had not so entirely forgotten the past as Malcolm thought — not so entirely, at least, but that his appearance, and certain difficulties in which she had begun to find herself, brought something of it again to her mind.

"I thought," said Malcolm, assuming his best English, "your ladyship might not choose to part with an old servant at the will of a factor, and so took upon me to appeal to your ladyship to decide the question."

"But how is that? Did you not return to your fishing when the household was broken up?"

"No, my lady. Mr. Crathie kept me to help Stoat and do odd jobs about the place."

"And now he wants to discharge you?"

Then Malcolm told her the whole story, in which he gave such a description of Kelpie that her owner, as she imagined herself, expressed a strong wish to see her, for Florimel was almost passionately fond of horses.

"You may soon do that, my lady," said Malcolm. "Mr. Soutar, not being of the same mind as Mr. Crathie, is going to send her up. It will be but the cost of the passage from Aberdeen, and she will fetch a better price here if your ladyship should resolve to part with her. She won't fetch the third of her value anywhere, though, on account of her bad temper and ugly tricks."

"But as to yourself, MacPhail — what are you going to do?" said Florimel. "I don't like to part with you, but if I keep you I don't know what to do with you. No doubt you could serve in the house, but that is not at all suitable to your education and previous life."

"A body wad tak' ye for a granny grown," said Malcolm to himself. But to Florimel he replied, "If your ladyship should wish to keep Kelpie, you will have to keep me too, for not a creature else will she let near her."

"And, pray, tell me what use, then, can I make of such an animal?" said Florimel.

"Your ladyship, I should imagine, will want a groom to attend you when you are out on horseback, and the groom will want a horse; and here am I and Kelpie," answered Malcolm.

Florimel laughed. "I see," she said. "You contrive I shall have a horse nobody can manage but yourself." She rather liked the idea of a groom so mounted, and had too much well-justified faith in Malcolm to anticipate dangerous results.

"My lady," said Malcolm, appealing to her knowledge of his character to secure credit, for he was about to use his last means of persuasion — and as he spoke in his eagerness he relapsed into his mother-tongue — "My lady, did I ever tell ye a lee?"

"Certainly not, Malcolm, so far as I know. Indeed, I am certain you never did," answered Florimel, looking up at him in a dominant yet kindly way.

"Then," continued Malcolm, "I'll tell your ladyship something that you may find hard to believe, and yet is as true as that I loved your ladyship's father. Your ladyship knows he had a kindness for me?"

"I do know it," answered Florimel gently, moved by the tone of Malcolm's voice and the expression of his countenance.

"Then I make bold to tell your ladyship that on his death-bed your father desired me to do my best for you — took my word that I would be your ladyship's true servant."

"Is it so, indeed, Malcolm?" returned Florimel with a serious wonder in her tone, and looked him in the face with an earnest gaze. She had loved her father, and it sounded in her ears almost like a message from the tomb.

"It's as true as I stan' here, my leddy," said Malcolm.

Florimel was silent for a moment. Then she said, "How is it that only now you come to tell me?"

"Your father never desired me to tell you, my lady; only he never imagined you would want to part with me, I suppose. But when you did not care to keep me, and never said a word to me when you went away, I could not tell how to do as I had promised him. It wasn't that one hour I forgot his wish, but that I feared to presume; for if I should displease your ladyship my chance was gone. So I kept about Lossie House as long as I could, hoping to see my way to some plan or other. But when at length Mr. Craithie turned me away, what was I to do but come to your ladyship? And if your ladyship will let things be as before — in the way of service I mean — I canna doobt, my leddy, but it 'll be pleesant i' the sicht o' yer father whanever he may come to ken o' 't, my lady."

Florimel gave him a strange, half-startled look. Hardly more than once since her father's funeral had she heard him alluded to, and now this fisher-lad spoke of him as if he were still at Lossie House.

Malcolm understood the look. "Ye mean, my leddy — I ken what ye mean," he said. "I canna help it. For to lo'e onything is to ken 't immortal. He's livin' to me, my lady."

Florimel continued staring, and still said nothing.

I sometimes think that the present belief in mortality is nothing but the almost universal although unsuspected unbelief in immortality grown vocal and articulate.

But Malcolm gathered courage and went on. "An' what for no, my leddy?" he said, floundering no more in English, but soaring on the clumsy wings of his mother-dialect. "Didna he turn his face to the licht afore he dee'd? an' Him 'at rase frae the deid said 'at whaever believed in Him sud never dee. Sae we maun believe 'at he's livin', for gien we dinna believe what He says, what are we to believe, my leddy?"

Florimel continued yet a moment looking him fixedly in the face. The thought did arise that perhaps he had lost his reason, but she could not look at him thus and even imagine it. She remembered how strange he had always been, and for a moment had a glimmering idea that in this young man's friendship she possessed an incorruptible treasure. The calm, truthful, believing, almost for the moment enthusiastic, expression of the young fisherman's face wrought upon her with a strangely quieting influence. It was as if one spoke to her out of a region of existence of which she had never even heard, but in whose reality she was compelled to believe because of the sound of the voice that came from it.

Malcolm seldom made the mistake of stamping into the earth any seeds of truth he might cast on it: he knew when to say no more, and for a time neither spoke. But now, for all the coolness of her upper crust, Lady Florimel's heart glowed — not, indeed, with the power of the shining truth Malcolm had uttered, but with the light of gladness in the possession of such a strong, devoted, disinterested squire. "I wish you to understand," she said at length, "that I am not at present mistress of this house, although it belongs to me. I am but the guest of Lady Bellair, who has rented it of my guardians. I cannot therefore arrange for you to be here. But you can find accommodation in the neighborhood, and come to me at one o'clock every day for orders. Let me know when your mare arrives: I shall not want you till then. You will find room for her in the stables. You had better consult the butler about your groom's livery." Malcolm was astonished at the womanly sufficiency with which she gave her orders. He left her with the gladness of one who has had his righteous desire, held consultation with the butler on the matter of the livery, and went home to his lodging. There he sat down and meditated.

A strange, new, yearning pity rose in his heart as he thought about his sister and the sad facts of her lonely condition. He feared much that her stately composure was built mainly on her imagined position in society, and was not the outcome of her character. Would it be cruelty to destroy that false foundation, hardly the more false as a foundation for composure that beneath it lay a mistake? — or was it not rather a justice which her deeper and truer self had a right to demand of him? At present, however, he need not attempt to answer the question. Communication even such as a trusted groom might have with her, and familiarity with her surroundings, would probably reveal much. Meantime, it was enough that he would now be so near her that no important change of which others might be aware could well approach her without his knowledge, or anything take place without his being able to interfere if necessary.